Our Learnings

The PVMSC methodology enables the researchers to capture their observations and reflections throughout the process. There are inevitably limitations with any methodology and we have attempted to capture both the positives and negatives of the approach and what we have learned throughout the process.

Stakeholder Engagement

The success of a community project lies in the collaboration and engagement of multiple stakeholders, as they can bring a wealth of perspectives, expertise, and resources. In the case of the Khuded project, the involvement of the NGO was instrumental in building connections with the community. Tata Cleantech Capital Ltd, a core partner within the SUNRISE collaboration, has been involved in many solar projects in the region and initiated conversations with the NGO. They have also had a continuous role in supporting the Solar OASIS construction and its ongoing maintenance.

There are usually specific procedures to starting any dialogue or project within communities. The local governing body or Gram Panchayat is the main entry point for any proposed involvement with Indian villages. As the NGO was a known entity in the area, working closely with them was critical in making sure that we progressed through all the necessary channels and approvals with the Gram Panchayat. They also helped select a particular village that met SUNRISE criteria, and the specific site for the Solar OASIS building. Because they had a detailed understanding of the village dynamics, they could help identify and recruit villagers who were willing to take part in activities, attempting to meet our needs for diversity in terms of age, gender, and social backgrounds to ensure the project’s inclusivity.

Engaging stakeholders in a remote village poses unique challenges (particularly where there are limited communication options as there was no Wi-Fi or phone signal in the village). However, the NGO was supportive in addressing these obstacles. They played a crucial role by disseminating information about the project and about the PVMSC activities. Having worked in the village for several years they have established trust and rapport with the villagers over the successful implementation of several initiatives. This longstanding presence contributed to their credibility and by association made our project team more readily accepted, paving the way for a smoother introduction and integration of the project.

However, it is essential to acknowledge that relying on a single stakeholder for participant selection may inadvertently limit diverse perspectives, raising the need for continued efforts to ensure broader inclusion.

Potential Conflicts of Interest

It is crucial to have a diverse group and to emphasise the villagers’ role in accurately reflecting community experiences.

We had requested that the NGO recruit a group that were diverse in terms of age, gender, and economic status (i.e. those with land and those reliant on working others’ land/daily wage earners). During the course of the sessions we discovered that several of the villagers were closely related to each other. Whereas we expected that the group would be known to each other (it is a relatively small community), we had not appreciated how close they were.

Another aspect that pointed to a lack of diversity was that the changes the community wanted to cover in their story were almost exclusively positive. Although this seemed great news, it also seemed somewhat unrealistic. When we probed further there was a reluctance to say anything that could be construed as a criticism of the NGO or of the project. We reiterated that the intent of the Solar OASIS was to provide access to clean energy for all, and so we wanted to see how far this was being achieved. The team emphasized that the aim of the activities we were carrying out was about the group taking centre stage and how the solar building had affected their life – for good or bad.

As the process unfolded,  the story seemed to  follow a direction that had been previously described by the NGO. While recognising the important role that the NGO had had in the village to date and that the group were keen to make sure the NGO continued to exert their influence to progress other developments, we were also keen to hear where improvements could be achieved. The researchers wanted to ensure that the community’s efforts and contributions were equally recognised and to question and consider if there were some in the village who may not be benefitting as much from the Solar OASIS. By emphasising this point, the team encouraged the focus back to the community, highlighting their agency and pivotal role in evaluating the ongoing success of the building and its equipment.

Time Constraints and Adaptability

Time frames need to be adaptable to fit around community needs and wants. There were several constraints from both community and researcher perspectives that meant we had a limited window to deliver the sessions. Time frames had to be considered carefully to fit in with the villagers’ busy daily activities and commitments. We had to work around a late monsoon, harvest and religious festivals. All SUNRISE project activities had to be completed before March 2023 (the project end date) and there were additional social science research activities that also needed to be completed in this time frame.

The research team initially envisaged that the community members would only be able to attend a limited number of sessions due to their other commitments during our time frame. As a research team we were only able to support two weeks of the PVMSC due to project deadlines and budget, which we had thought may allow us to complete just four or five sessions. The group’s enthusiasm and willingness to take part in all activities meant that we adapted the program to extend over 10 sessions to suit their time frames and everyday commitments.

Groups Size and Age/Gender Mix

Be aware that the group size and age/gender mix may impact the participation of all members. Initially we had been concerned that the group was quite large for some of the activities. At first, we split the group into men and women at the suggestion of the TISS researchers. This followed earlier participatory research activities where it was felt that certain issues may be preferred to be discussed in single sex groups, and that the younger women in particular may be more reserved in sharing their opinions. Although our pilot activities had also shown that there may be some deference from the young towards the old (and possibly a reluctance to share views) this did not seem to happen in this group and may have been due to existing familiarity with each other. Where we did notice differences in activities by age, on the whole it was the younger people that wanted to take control when filming with the older members happier to take on directorial and editing responsibilities.


The project team worked with the group to facilitate the production of a film that was community-led and directed and told the story that they wished to share. But the PVMSC activities provided much more than a community-made film as an output. Participants acquired skills and had the opportunity to discuss issues (not necessarily captured on the film) and these have far-reaching potential. The group made recommendations for the future that included updating equipment that had been purchased for use in the Solar OASIS, but also separate issues such as the ongoing problem regarding access to clean water throughout the year and a preference for each household to be electrified. It is possible that voicing these issues may lead to a commitment to take action.

The participatory video activities had also been observed more widely by other community members as the group ventured into different parts of the village to film specific activities. Sometimes the group wanted to include other villagers performing traditional activities or capture compelling events and interactions. They learned the importance of obtaining consent and respecting the privacy of individuals, contributing to both a respectful and authentic portrayal of community life.

Storytelling is a powerful tool that can create collective understanding and an appreciation for the diversity of human experience. By integrating the perspectives, values, and needs of the villagers, the project can provide a greater understanding of how different people may experience the same situations differently. This in turn can highlight where there are further opportunities to enhance more equitable access to clean energy.

There is potential for replication of this type of activity in other development projects within India and beyond.

Funding Source

Determining Equitable Benefits: Achieving Transitions in renewable Energy (DEBATE) is funded by British Academy Small Research Grants scheme SRG22\220462 (2022)